North East, Pa. -- It is a time-honored tradition for winery workers to grow a beard during the grape-harvest season. Zach Evanitsky, who graduated from the College of Agricultural Sciences this spring with a degree in food science, followed this practice while interning with Mazza Vineyards, near Lake Erie in North East, Pa.
He interned with the vineyard for seven months in 2010 -- June through December. He moved to nearby Erie, Pa., and at the same time took a three-credit, online course to meet his general-education requirements.
At first, his duties at the winery were pretty menial, but he worked his way up to supervising. Some of his tasks included cleaning equipment, preparing bottles, mixing, crushing and pressing grapes, conducting lab analyses and monitoring fermentations.
"Overall I learned the complete production side of wine," said Evanitsky. "I got to take part in everything from picking the grapes to the finished product." He was the winery's first intern, so it was a learning experience for both him and his employer.
After taking a horticulture class in high school, he decided to major in an agricultural field. "I looked at Penn State's available majors, and I found Food Science," he said. "My family owns a catering business, so I've always had a close connection with food."
Evanitsky became interested in wine making soon after, when -- on a whim -- he made wine from a wine-making kit. However it was not until his sophomore year at Penn State that he decided to switch his focus from dairy products to wine making, after a spring-break trip to Napa Valley, Calif.
He obtained the internship after a professor advised him to e-mail the owner of the vineyard. "My Penn State experience has really prepared me for the future," he said. "It was my experience with the Food Science Club and my close connections to professors that have made everything possible."
For a few days during his internship, he visited a distillery for hard liquors, also owned by Mazza Vineyards and located just across the border in New York. He learned about the distillery's operations and processes.
"It was a lot of hard work," Evanitsky said about the internship, "but it was worth it in the end. It was the perfect combination of hands-on and technical experience."
Evanitsky has completed internships with Kraft Foods in Tarrytown, N.Y., and Del Monte Foods in Pittsburgh. He worked in research and development for both companies.
Evanitsky went to France this May on a College of Agricultural Sciences trip to compare American and French agricultural methods and to tour a champagne vineyard. He was hoping to land a job with a winemaker in California, New York, Oregon or Washington.